Noise cancelling headphones
February 14, 2012 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Noise cancelling headphones?


I am looking to gift my husband a good set of noise cancelling headphones. No idea which would be a good buy. He uses it a lot with his sansa clip so any recommendations would be great

Thank you.
posted by pakora1 to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
posted by tel3path at 6:43 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you sure you need noise cancelling, rather than isolating? Is this for use in airplanes or around machinery of some sort?
posted by jon1270 at 6:46 AM on February 14, 2012

I have these and I'm a huge fan: Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B Active Noise-Cancelling Closed-Back Headphones. They are pretty much the only thing I've ever found to make air travel tolerable.
posted by telegraph at 6:47 AM on February 14, 2012


I've owned these for two or three years, use them every day for most of the day at my computer, and have no complaints. They work great despite being dropped and banged around much more than they should have been.

You might want to also gift him a pack of AAA batteries, though, if he'll be using them frequently. They eat through batteries pretty fast.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:48 AM on February 14, 2012

I have these Panasonics and they are the best $50 I have spent in a long time. I commute in Boston, sometimes on the Red Line, and they are pretty amazing for being able to listen to music/podcasts in an incredibly loud subway tunnel.

+1 to buying him a pack of AAA batteries or, better, a set of rechargeables. They do tend to eat through them.
posted by athenasbanquet at 6:58 AM on February 14, 2012

I got my boyfriend these Klipsch Image S4 earbuds a couple of Christmases ago. He really likes them because they're lighter than most noise-cancelling headphones, and if you buy from one of Klipsch's certified vendors, their replacement policy is amazing (2 years). I would definitely recommend buying these.
posted by Stephanie Duy at 6:58 AM on February 14, 2012

Seconding Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B headphones.
posted by devnull at 7:00 AM on February 14, 2012

I would avoid the Bose. They produce 'ok' headphones, but you are paying a markup for their marketing and store presence more so than for their headphone quality.

I am guessing you are also looking more for noise-isolating rather than noise-canceling. If you want a portable pair, the in-ear to use with the MP3 player from Ultimate Ears (metro-fi, super-fi, triple-fi each have a variety of models/price points) are quite the bargain for comfort, noise-isolation, and sound quality.

I would need to know your budget for a specific recommendation as headphone purchase prices can vary wildly.
posted by seppyk at 7:01 AM on February 14, 2012

I've been really happy with my Bose headphones, so much that I'm actually looking a tiny but forward to my next flight. The latest edition has a charger ( and comes with an airplane charger port) so you don't need batteries.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:19 AM on February 14, 2012

"bit forward," that is.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:19 AM on February 14, 2012

BOSE - Buy Other Sound Equipment.

Seriously, bose are shit for the price.

The Sansa clip is an audiophile-grade portable source, so you'd do well to pair it with a good set of headphones and really blow his mind.

As others have mentioned, you'd do much better off getting noise isolating headphones instead of noise cancelling ones. And on the noise-isolating front, you can't beat the Etymotic ER-4P at up to 42db of isolation. Doesn't hurt that they sound phenomenal either.

If they're too high for your budget, etymotic has lower-end models with almost as much isolation - the MC5s might fit the bill. (I mention etymotic as they are widely known for having the best isolation out there.)
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:20 AM on February 14, 2012

I'm answering your question based on what you asked for--noise-cancelling headphones. I've been really happy with my Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones, which I bought mostly for plane travel. When you're wearing them and you flip the switch on and off, it's really impressive to hear how much of the noise on a plane can be blocked out by these headphones. Not cheap but I'm glad I got them. They don't go on sale, but I got them tax-free on Amazon. My three finalists were the Bose set, the Audio Technica ATH-ANC7B set telegraph mentions above and the Sennheiser PXC 450. I chose the Bose set in the end because A) their size seemed "right" to me, B) sound quality was apparently better than the Audio Technica's (but not quite as good as the Sennheiser's), C) comfort (extremely comfortable with high-quality earpads), and D) noise-cancelling abilities (better than the other two). My research was mostly based on internet reading, and I wasn't able to try the other two sets out in person, but definitely worthwhile. (My only gripe is that the cords that are included--one with a mic/remote for an iOS device and one without--are really long, so a bit of cord management is needed. I just got a simple small cord wrap thing to leave with it all the time and it works out fine.)
posted by jroybal at 7:24 AM on February 14, 2012

I'm not a fan of the Bose, either. They may be sound canceling, but I found them to be incredibly fatiguing. They're built around active noise cancelation technology, which broadcasts an inverted wave into your ear in order to cancel the ambient noise around you. It's an interesting (though not unique to Bose) technology, but is probably not the best choice if you want to both block ambient sounds _and_ enjoy music.

I'm in agreement with the others above that noise-isolating headphones are the way to go. They don't require power, are generally much smaller/lighter, and are capable of far better fidelity than the Bose offering. The best type to get for isolation is a pair of in-ear monitors, like the Etymotics mentioned by namewithoutwords. One of the advantages of IEMs is that you can swap the tips depending on the environment: soft foam tips provide outstanding comfort for extended wear, while harder, rubber tips provide outstanding isolation. The isolation provided is mostly a factor of the tips, so nearly any pair can be improved with a simple swap from one tip to another. Tips are not terribly expensive (~$15 - $20 for three pairs), and you can make your own custom tips for a better fit, if so inclined.

I have a headphone addiction, and have owned all of the following in-ear monitors at some point or another, listed in order of preference:

Etymotic ER6 (~$120, but now supplanted by the MC5, which are ~$60)
Etymotic ER4s (~$300)
Klipsch Image x10 (~$140)
Shure SE530 (~$500)
Westone 3 (~$350)
Westone 4 (~$400)

If your husband is not an audiophile, I would go for the less expensive Etymotics and call it a day. If he is obsessed with tube amps and ERS paper, get him the Westone 4 and a set of Comply foam tips.
posted by drklahn at 7:39 AM on February 14, 2012

One more suggestion: take a look at Headroom, which sells nearly everything related to headphones. They're a great resource for reviews and technical information, and they have decent prices and excellent customer service. It's hard to beat Amazon on price and convenience, but Headroom has a ton of great information for consumer research.
posted by drklahn at 7:41 AM on February 14, 2012

What kind of headphones does he like (that is, in-ear, over-the-ear, something else, etc.)? Is he going to use them on public transportation or a factory floor or a noisy house or someplace else? How much do you want to spend?

If he doesn't mind in-ear monitors like the ones from Etymotic, Ultimate Ears, Westone and Shure, that's a good way to go.

If he likes the isolation of over-the-ear headphones, the Sennhiser HD-280 is a great choice.

If you want actual noise-cancelling, well, I don't know much about those. For what it's worth, there is a widespread perception (nearly universal among audiophile types) that Bose stuff is overpriced and overrated. On the other hand, some folks really love it.

In any case, there have been many previous questions about this topic, and they're probably worth looking at.
posted by box at 7:53 AM on February 14, 2012

Sennheiser ie8 are pretty sweet. I can listen to music at normal levels in the noisiest subway stations.
posted by the jam at 7:54 AM on February 14, 2012

Definitely not the BOSE. I have the AN7 from Audio Technica - these are great and i've helped convince a few colleagues and my SO. you won't regret them.
posted by alchemist at 9:27 AM on February 14, 2012

Forgot to add that if the battery runs out, the Bose headphones turn off completely - as in NO sound until a new battery is set in. The AN7 becomes just regular headphones and will still operate with no battery to power the noise cancelling function.
posted by alchemist at 9:29 AM on February 14, 2012

Another vote for Etymotic Research. I use the mc5 and absolutely love them. Some quibble about the lower frequencies, but I've never had a complaint. They shut noise out.
posted by bluejayway at 9:52 AM on February 14, 2012

Nthing the in-ear buds that block out the world. No need to cancel noise if you can't hear it in the first place. I bought Shure SE115 when they were on sale for $50. They don't sound 100% great, but it blocks out the world nicely. But it seems that there are better suggestions for better prices, so just count this as a vote for sound-blocking.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:28 AM on February 14, 2012

I received a set of Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones as a gift a few years ago. I've been very happy with them. The noise-cancelling works wonders in the office; I very often listen to music while I'm working and it prevents distractions from squeaky HVAC systems, noisy co-workers, and frequent annoying beeping noises from failing security systems. I haven't had a chance to use the headphones on an airplane yet.

Had I bought the headphones myself, I'm not sure I would have gone with Bose. I used to work in a job where we did quite a bit of audio processing work, and we had a few pairs of Sennhiser brand headphones in the lab, though I'm not sure if they were noise-cancelling. I was happy with them as well.
posted by tckma at 11:58 AM on February 14, 2012

Does your husband wear glasses? I love my Bose headphones (they saved me from a horrible work environment and paid for themselves since I did not explode and get fired). However, they hurt my ears after a while if I wear them with my glasses, which sucks. And rechargeable AAAs never worked as well as alkalines, sadly.
posted by Maarika at 2:00 PM on February 14, 2012

PS, I used mine with my Sansa Clip, no complaints there.
posted by Maarika at 2:01 PM on February 14, 2012

I've used both Bose noise cancelling headphones and Etymotic ER6 isolation earbuds and the ER6s win, no contest. I think that the mc5 is the new version of them. The earbuds are more comfortable over time, use no batteries, have better sound IMO, and do a better job of blocking noise. I've worn both on propeller airplanes where it feels like you're riding inside a lawnmower, and the earbuds actually blocked the noise.
posted by monopas at 6:08 PM on February 14, 2012

For airplane travel, I have a setup I love. This plus this. 30 bucks.
posted by Alaska Jack at 1:08 AM on February 15, 2012

Etymotic ER-4P.

They're not "active noise canceling" headphones. If you listen to some of the "high end" Bose headphones and then listen to these, it won't seem like they're doing anything. The Bose ones will produce a nice hiss that makes them sound like they're working really hard. They seem like some really cool, high-end technology The ER-4Ps will, when properly-seated, sound like nothing at all. You'll hear the music, and nothing else.

Naturally, this fact makes them a tough sell to some folks -- but if you really want to ensure that you have good sound even with tons of outside noise, I'd recommend a set of good IEMs like the ER-4Ps.

(Disclaimer: owned Bose noise-canceling headphones, realized my mistake, bought Shures, broke Shures, bought ER-4Ps and loved them.)
posted by -1 at 11:58 PM on February 17, 2012

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